TW Acustic Raven One Turntable w/Raven AC Controller
|TW Acustic Raven One Turntable w/Raven AC Controller
Pre-owned and I'm Loving it!
Big and Beautiful vs. Curved and Sexy
I've had my share of great sounding turntables over the past 35 years of navigating the audiophile waters, but thought I was approaching the pinnacle of audio nirvana with the “big and beautiful” VPI Aries turntable. The Aries was tricked out with VPI’s 10.5 JMW Memorial arm, SDS (synchronous drive system) speed control unit, and Mapleshade brass feet. Little did I know that the TW-Acustic Raven One, a “curved and sexy” sweetheart, was right around the corner. Although I happily lived with the VPI for more than 5 years, the upgrade bug bit me when I was least expecting it.
My First Encounter with Curved and Sexy’s Big Sister
The bug hit me when I got a call from a new audiophile buddy, and he said, “You have got to come over. “You are not going to believe what I am hearing over here.” I took the bait and entered the abyss… I was doomed again. He had just set up a new cartridge and step up with his TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable, and baby it was singing. So musical, so involving, the attack, sustain and decay of each note hanging in the air… oh my G-d… I didn’t know this level of musical involvement was even possible from reproduced music. It was the closest I had come to experiencing the tingles of a live musical performance from a needle rubbing the vinyl grooves. But, the Raven AC was beyond my grasp from a financial perspective, so alas I had to live with my Aries. But, my buddy Barry mentioned that TW-Acustic had another table, the Raven One, which was much more affordable and almost as good. How much…too much for my budget, so I threw water on myself and put the brakes on.
The Upgrade Bug Hits Me Again
A year later I was scanning the audio ads and noticed a hardly-used Raven One up for sale. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I struck up a conversation with the seller and wound up buying the Raven One with a Graham Phantom I arm. It was not as “big and beautiful” as the Aries. Although smaller and not the eye candy of the Aries, the Raven One was “curved and sexy.” And the sound… it blew away my Aries right off the bat.
Curved and Sexy Arrives But Not Quite Perfect
Unfortunately, the Raven did not arrive completely intact. One of the feet apparently came loose during shipping, scratched the table and broke through the face plate of the speed controller, which was not working upon arrival. My luck turned for the worse when the seller blamed the shipping company and the shipping company blamed the seller’s un-artful packing job.
With the Raven peering at me without the ability to hear what this curved and sexy creature could do, I resorted to calling TW-Acustic’s importer, Highwater Sound, to find out how much it would cost to secure a new controller or repair the old one. The owner, Jeff Catalano, floored me when he offered to send me a controller to use until I got the dispute resolved. He simply offered it as an accommodation since I had been through so much heartache with my purchase. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Can you say nice guy? Can you say good business person? I was quite impressed with this level of customer service to a second hand purchaser. I really couldn’t believe I received the controller in a few days with no deposit and no commitment to buy anything. Keep in mind this was before I started reviewing any equipment. So, I was just a regular run of the mill audiophile who was not even a prior customer. Yet, I was treated better by Mr. Catalano than any of my prior experiences during the 35 years of being involved in high-end audio.
Weeks went by and I finally resolved the damage issues, so I contacted Jeff Catalano to buy the controller he loaned me. He offered it for a great price but mentioned that he also had an AC controller which would bring the table to a new level. Before making a decision for this upgrade I called my friend Barry because he had the AC controller, so I borrowed it for a few days and did some side by side comparisons with the standard Raven controller and the results were startling. Everything was better, just like Jeff told me they would be. Better dynamics from top to bottom. The AC controller was quite a bit more than the Raven One controller but once I got a taste of what it had to offer, I was not going backwards. I’m sure you know that old saga. So, I decided to go for it, and boy was I glad I did.
The Curved and Sexy Raven Soars
Although I enjoyed the warmth of the Raven One with the old controller, I did not realize that I was missing an extraordinary amount of the musical information. I played many of the same albums that I just listened to with the old controller and was floored. With the AC controller I heard much of the musicality and dynamics that I had experienced when I listened to my buddy’s Raven AC, but thankfully at a much reduced cost. But, in all fairness I didn’t have them side by side to do an A B comparison and the systems they were in were completely different. So, I suspect a side by side would have been enlightening. But, that is a story for another day. All I knew was I was very happy with the Raven One with the AC controller upgrade, and I was getting a substantial portion of the performance of the AC at a fraction of the cost. My big and beautiful Aries was a faint memory now and there was no looking back. The curved and sexy Raven had clearly won the battle. But, now it was time to sit down and enjoy the music.
The Bird Makes Beautiful Music
I was not prepared for the differences between the Raven and the Aries. It was not even a close contest. The instruments were now in the room and it was ohhh so much more musical sounding. I heard the same type of attack, sustain, and decay of notes that I first experienced with the Raven AC but with a tad more warmth. Life was good again after all the aggravation from the shipping fiasco. I spent weeks listening to my album collection and experienced nuances in the music that I never heard before.
I started working though my audiophile pressings, and then on to jazz, blues, soul, and vocalists. Fleetwood Mac’s newly reissued 45 RPM album on heavy vinyl, Rumours [Reprise] was oh so musical and had a depth to the music that I had never heard before, and the Raven presented it all with a huge soundstage and dynamics that were beyond belief. The Raven had a level of musicality that many more expensive turntables just don’t get right. I started bopping to the music and getting into it so much that I could barely stay focused on writing notes for this review. Alison Krauss & Union Station’s So Long So Wrong [Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs] is well recorded but I heard micro-dynamics in the music that I never heard before. On “It Doesn’t Matter,” on side two, I heard the pluck and resonance of each guitar string and the bass was so lifelike and articulate that it brought me into the venue. The Raven was really singing. Yeah, my system is realistic sounding but, woooo my VPI never made me feel this way. The Aries produced the music clearly and nicely but didn’t have this level of musicality and realism. I don’t remember getting so immersed into the music and losing sight of system evaluation.
VPI has come out with several iterations of the Aries since the original. It also has newer turntable releases which may warrant consideration, but compared to my very good sounding Aries, there was just no real comparison to the bird. Perhaps I will get my hands on a newer VPI, and be able to update the comparison with the newer tables. For now, the Raven rules, and in a big way.
Some notes I took during listening sessions with the Raven say it all. The bass on the Raven was so tight and articulate it took listening sessions to a whole new level of enjoyment. On LP after LP I kept saying to myself… “I never heard that bass line before.” I couldn’t wait to dig out more of my favorite LPs from the shelves and to try new ones I had recently bought. Admittedly, this was not always an easy task with 6,000 albums, and many not making their way back from the floor with stacks of other albums. But, once I found those elusive babies I was in listening heaven. The depth and articulation of the bass was so impressive from the little Raven that I just couldn’t believe it was possible. I’ve listened to some fairly pricey rigs on isolated stands and never heard this impact before while retaining an unbelievable level of musicality. I noted that the bass line on the Fleetwood Mac 45 RPM version of “The Chain” (side three) took my breath away. The “Dahhh D D Dahhh Da Da Da Da Da Dahhhhhh”… was amazing. I never really experienced the magnitude, resonance and impact of that line before and I had listened to it a million times. Ok, so maybe it was the new version of the album, so I dug out my old half speed mastered version of Rumours and heard the same thing. Woooo… Then I heard the resonance of the cow bell on “Gold Dust Woman” on the same album and played both audiophile versions and heard the bell echo in the air and hang there like never before. So it had to be the Raven.
So now the Raven had gotten my attention and it was time to pull out the big guns. I needed to listen to some recordings that I knew were unbelievable. Patricia Barber’s 45 RPM Café Blue [MFSL] came to mind as did Alison Krauss & Union Station’s Live [MFSL]. Patricia and Alison were in the room with such palpability that I almost felt like I could reach out and touch them. I never had such a realistic album listening experience before. Don’t get me wrong these albums always sounded great but I just didn’t get drawn in to the performance to the same degree as I did with the Raven. The voices were so good that I had to hear some of my favorite vocal albums. So I pulled out original pressings of Nat King Cole’s After Midnight [Capital] and Etta Jones’ Lonely and Blue [Prestige] and was not disappointed. I heard much of the texture, inflections and weight in the voices that I experienced on the audiophile pressings. But how would the toys that came with the Raven affect the sound?
The Toys Come Out
The Raven came with a Millennium mat and a Millennium record weight. The Mat changed the sound in different ways depending on which side was up. The soft side made the music sound a bit warmer/softer. The hard side added a bit more detail. But, I liked the Raven best naked, as it sounded a bit more musical to these ears. The record weight tightened things up, particularly in the bass, with more leading edges, but again, I liked the musicality better without it. Perhaps, in the end, it is a matter of personal preference.
Can It Get Any Better Than This?
TW Acustic has come out with some improvements to the Raven since the version that I own. I understand that there are new feet, a revised controller and new bearing oil. I recently attended the Washington, D.C./Capitol Audio Show and picked up some new bearing oil for the Raven from Highwater Sound. I am told by my friend who owns the Raven AC that it makes a difference in the sound, so I intend to clean the bearing and its well and give the new oil a try. Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to report back on it along with the new feet that T.W. Acustic is now shipping with the Raven. Until then… I love hearing the curved and sexy Raven sing each and every day. Any improvements will be icing on the cake.
TW Acustic Raven One
Type: Belt-drive, unsuspended turntable
Speeds: 33.3 and 45 rpm
Dimensions: 17" x 5.25" x 13"
Weight: 52 lbs.
High Water Sound, LLC
274 Water Street
New York, NY 10038
Telephone : 212.608.8841
Harkortstraße 62 f
Telephone No. +49 (0) 2325 - 668484
Fax: +49 (0) 2325 - 668483
Mobile: +49 (0) 151 - 14135153
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